Archive for the ‘Coleen Gray’ Category


Warner Archive has some great stuff promised for April.

The Hired Gun (1957)
Directed by Ray Nazarro
Starring Rory Calhoun, Anne Francis, Vince Edwards, Chuck Connors
This is one I’ve been wanting for a long time. Black and white Scope with Rory Calhoun and Anne Francis, directed by Ray Nazarro. What’s not to like?

Black Patch (1957)
Directed by Allen H. Miner
Starring George Montgomery, Diane Brewster, Tom Pittman, Leo Gordon, Lynn Cartwright
A solid Montgomery Western written by character actor Leo Gordon.

Arrow In The Dust HS

Arrow In The Dust (1954)
Directed by Lesley Selander
Starring Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Jimmy Wakely, Lee Van Cleef
Hayden and Gray appear together a couple years before The Killing (1956), directed by the great Lesley Selander.

The Marauders (1955)
Directed by Gerald Mayer
Starring Dan Duryea, Jeff Richards, Keenan Wynn
Duryea as the bad guy gets first billing. Enough said.

Son Of Belle Starr (1953)
Directed by Frank McDonald
Starring Keith Larsen, Dona Drake, Peggie Castle, Regis Toomey
Peggie Castle and Regis Toomey in 70 minutes of Cinecolor from Allied Artists.

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Star In The Dust UK

Directed by Charles Haas
Starring John Agar, Mamie Van Doren, Richard Boone, Leif Erickson, Coleen Gray, James Gleason, Randy Stuart, Terry Gilkyson, Harry Morgan, Clint Eastwood

I tend to stay away from plugging foreign releases, mainly since I don’t want to encourage someone to spend their hard earned on something they may not be able to play once it shows up. Luckily, John Knight brings ‘em up in the comments for those who’re interested.

In the case of Star In The Dust (1956), I’m going to break my rule. First, I really like the movie. Next, I like John Agar. He made some cool Westerns and sci-fi flicks. Plus, I met him a few times and he was a really, really nice man.

mamie_agarIt’s an Albert Zugsmith production with a great cast — Agar, Mamie Van Doren, Richard Boone, Leif Erickson, Coleen Gray, James Gleason, Harry Morgan. It’s like a master class in character acting. The story’s good, director of photography John L. Russell Jr. does a great job (shot for 2:1), and Charles Haas’ direction has a real snap to it. It’s coming in May from Koch Media with its English tracks.

As you probably know, there’s a look and texture to Universal’s Westerns of the 50s, and this one has it in spades. Highly recommended.

Thanks for the tip, John.

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Apache Drums LC

Yesterday, I posted our favorite DVD releases of the year. Today’s list is made up of films we discovered during 2014. Titles that made the list were mentioned by at least three people. It’s a great lineup of fairly obscure, medium-budgeted 50s Westerns — and if you haven’t discovered them yourself, search them out.

Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953) Fred F. Sears was extremely prolific, and his 50s Westerns are worth seeking out. This is one of the better ones, available through Columbia’s on-demand DVD program.

Apache Drums (1951) A suspense picture dressed up in cowboy clothes, produced by Val Lewton and directed by Hugo Fregonese. With Stephen McNally, Coleen Gray, Willard Parker, Arthur Shields, James Griffith and Clarence Muse (who’s superb in a small part).

Border River (1954) With George Sherman directing Joel McCrea, Yvonne De Carlo and Pedro Armendáriz, how could it not be great? Shot around Moab, Utah.

Cow Country (1953) Coming across a new Lesley Selander picture is always a treat. This one features Edmond O’Brien, Helen Wescott, Bob Lowery, Barton MacLane, Peggie Castle, James Millican and Robert Wilke.

A Day Of Fury (1956) One of the most unusual, and overlooked, Westerns of the 50s. Harmon Jones directs Dale Robertson, Mara Corday and Jock Mahoney. I’m so glad this one’s being rediscovered.

Four Guns To The Border (1954) Rory Calhoun, Colleen Miller and Walter Brennan in an excellent Universal Western directed by Richard Carlson.


Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956) Another good one from Fred F. Sears. Wish this one would see a real DVD release — black and white widescreen is so cool.

The Silver Whip (1953) Dale Robertson, Rory Calhoun, Robert Wagner, Kathleen Crowley and James Millican star in this taut, tight picture from editor-turned-director Harmon Jones. The staging of the climactic chase is masterful.

Stage To Tucson (1950) Rod Cameron and Wayne Morris. Lone Pine in Technicolor. Surely that’s worth an investment of 81 minutes.

Yellow Tomahawk LC

The Yellow Tomahawk (1954) Sadly, this color film is only available black and white. But it’s still a solid effort from the ever-dependable Lesley Selander — with a cast that includes Rory Calhoun, Peggie Castle, Noah Beery, Jr., Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef and Rita Moreno.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

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A few weeks ago, I broke my glasses and began relying on an old (pre-trifocals) pair while I scrambled for an eye exam and new frames. Reading became very, very difficult. Not the best time to receive a book you’re really excited about. But that’s exactly when Mark Thomas McGee’s Talk’s Cheap, Action’s Expensive: The Films Of Robert L. Lippert, from BearManor Media, turned up in my mailbox.

Lippert Pictures (and related companies) cranked out cheap little Westerns like 1952’s Outlaw Women, along with gems such as Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James (1949) and The Quiet Gun (1957). (They covered the other genres, too.) I’m a big fan of these films and was determined to make my way through the book with or without spectacles, holding it so close I risked paper cuts on my nose.

McGee set the book up very well. The first 80 pages or so read as a biography and history of Lippert and his career, from the theater business to film production. I had a working knowledge of the Lippert story going in, but was always coming upon something I didn’t know. There’s a filmography, arranged by company, that makes up the bulk of the book. And finally, there’s a listing of the Lippert theaters (the closest to me was in Chattanooga, TN).

red desert HS

What’s not to like about a book like this? It’s packed with information on movies I grew up with, movies I love. Rocketship X-M (1950). The Steel Helmet (1951). Superman And The Mole Men (1951). Forty Guns (1957). Showdown At Boot Hill (1958). The Fly (1958). The Alligator People (1959). House Of The Damned (1963). They’re all in here, and you’ll come away with a better understanding of what went into getting them made. Where I think McGee really excelled was in making sure the book, as informative as it is, stayed as fun as the films it’s about. (The same goes for his previous books on Roger Corman and AIP.)

copper sky

If there’s a downside to this book, it’s that the filmography points out film after film that you’d love to track down and see. You’ll find a lot of them available from Kit Parker Films and VCI, and others scattered here and there. Some of the Fullers were even given the Criterion treatment. As for the rest, well, happy hunting.

It’s very easy to recommend Mark Thomas McGee’s Talk’s Cheap, Action’s Expensive: The Films Of Robert L. Lippert. Now that my new glasses are in, I’m reading it a second time.

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Allan Dwan sketch cropped

Director Allan Dwan’s career was as old as the Movies themselves, and many of the early technical developments were his doing. Going into the mid-50s, he was still making innovative, unique, personal films — usually for smaller studios that would leave him alone and let him do what he did best.

I went Wig City over Allan Dwan’s films of 50s, thanks to DVDs of his work from VCI, and that helped spawn this blog. So I was really stoked to hear about The Museum of Modern Art’s Dwan series — which will include several of those Westerns.

From the MoMA web site: The Museum of Modern Art presented a major retrospective of Dwan’s films in 1971, with Dwan in attendance, and while another exhibition was certainly due after 42 years, this series was prompted by the publication of Frederic Lombardi’s definitive study of Dwan’s work, Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the of the Hollywood Studios (McFarland, 2013).

If you can make it to any of these, by all means do so. The Westerns are:

June 14-15, 18
Frontier Marshal (1939)
With Randolph Scott, Nancy Kelly, Cesar Romero, John Carradine, Ward Bond.
This was once almost impossible to see (the bootleg tape I had of it was impossible to see). Another take on the O.K. Corral story. I prefer Randolph Scott with more age on him, but this is a really cool film.


June 24-25
Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)
With Audrey Totter, Joan Leslie, John Lund, Brian Donlevy, Ben Cooper.
Dwan made a string of films for Republic that are worth seeking out (Olive Films, you reading this?), with Sands Of Iwo Jima (1949) being the best known. Dwan approaches this as a spoof — evidently, he didn’t see any other way — and the results are terrific.

June 29-30
The Restless Breed (1957)
With Scott Brady, Anne Bancroft, Jim Davis, Scott Marlowe, Evelyn Rudie.
Dwan’s last Western. A revenge tale gets a light comic touch.

Picture 45

July 3,5
Tennessee’s Partner (1955)
With John Payne, Rhonda Fleming, Ronald Reagan, Coleen Gray.
John Alton’s Superscope cinematography almost steals the show, making the Iverson Ranch look like the most beautiful place on earth.

July 3, 6
Silver Lode (1954)
With John Payne, Dan Duryea, Lizabeth Scott, Harry Carey, Jr.
A key 5os Western, and the damnedest McCarthy comment you’ve ever seen. Again, Alton and his cameras roam the ranches of Hollywood to amazing results.

Be sure to look at the complete listing. I highly recommend Slightly Scarlet (1956), an incredible Technicolor, Superscope film noir shot by John Alton.

Thanks to Stephen Bowie.

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Directed by Hugo Fregonese
Produced by Val Lewton
Screenplay by David Chandler, from “Stand At Spanish Boot” by Harry Brown
Director of Photography: Charles P. Boyle, ASC
Music: Hans J. Salter
Film Editor: Milton Carruth

CAST: Stephen McNally (Sam Leeds), Coleen Gray (Sally), Willard Parker (Joe Madden), Arthur Shields (Reverend Griffin), James Griffith (Lt. Glidden), Armando Silvestre (Pedro-Peter), Georgia Backus (Mrs. Keon), Clarence Muse (Jehu), Ruthelma Stevens (Betty Careless), James Best (Bert Keon), Chinto Guzman (Chacho), Ray Bennett (Mr. Keon).


Happy Halloween. This is my contribution to the Val Lewton Blogathon — a celebration of the life and work of the great producer.

Hosted by Stephen aka Classic Movie Man and Kristina of Speakeasy, you can find more posts at either Classic Movie Man’s Lewton page or Speakeasy’s Lewton page — by film bloggers from all over the Intenet. I’m honored to be rubbing cyber-elbows with them.

If this is your first stop on the Val Lewton blogathon, you’ve come in at the end of the show. Apache Drums (1951) was producer Lewton’s last film; he died before its release. Though this was his only Western, and the only time he would produce a Technicolor film, Apache Drums is very much an extension of his earlier work in horror films. A little backstory is in order.

Val Lewton was a novelist who wound up a producer. In the early 40s, he found himself in charge of a small unit at RKO, making horror films for $150,000 each. His psychological approach, preying upon our fear of the dark and the unknown, was both effective (the first, Cat People, grossed millions and helped save the studio) and cost-effective (little light, minimal sets and no monster makeup). Lewton believed it was better to suggest horror than to show it. Leaving RKO in 1946, he made films for Paramount and MGM, and considered starting an independent production company with two of his directors from RKO, Robert Wise and Mark Robson. It fell through. There was talk of an association with Stanley Kramer at Columbia. And there was a producing gig at Universal-International — which resulted in Apache Drums.

The town of Spanish Boot is on a mission to make something respectable of itself. So when Sam Leeds (Stephen McNally), a gambler, shoots a man in self defense, he’s run out of town by Mayor Joe Madden (Willard Parker) and Reverend Griffin (Arthur Shields). He’s also forced to leave his girl Sally (Coleen Gray) behind.

Not long after leaving town, he comes across the bodies of saloon owner Betty Careless and her dance hall girls — also banished from Spanish Boot by Madden and Griffin. They’ve been massacred by Mescalero Apaches. Jehu, the piano player (Clarence Muse), is still alive as NcNally rides up. His warning: “Apaches, Mascalero Apaches… A hundred, maybe 200. They came down out of the rocks like ghosts… You gotta warn the town.”

Leeds rides back to warn the good people of Spanish Boot, but no one will believe him — until a stagecoach shows up with its passengers dead. This sets things in motion, the Apaches comes, and Leeds and the remaining townspeople take refuge in an adobe church, hoping to hold out till the the cavalry can arrive.

Filmed under the working title War Dance, Apache Drums was based on a story by Harry Brown, “Stand At Spanish Boot.” I haven’t read it to see how the story was adapted for the screen, but it’s obvious Lewton was able to approach it like his horror films for RKO. Here, the Apaches are the unknown that hides in the dark. Like the people of Spanish Boot, the audience waits in the church, listening to the drums outside, knowing that when the music stops, the siege will begin.

Director Hugo Fregonese keeps things moving and the tension mounting. It’s only 75 minutes long. The literate script was by David Chandler, no doubt with plenty of input from Lewton. Chandler later wrote Tomahawk Trail (1957).

Cinematographer Charles P. Boyle enjoyed a long career that began in the Silents. His handling of the darker scenes near the end of this film, with lots of Technicolor candles, is very effective, and contributes to the mood Lewton knew was key to the film’s success. A few years after Apache Drums, Boyle shot the Davy Crockett TV shows for Disney, which were re-edited into the feature Davy Crockett, King Of The Wild Frontier (1955). His last film was Old Yeller (1957).

Location shooting was done at Red Rock Canyon State Park, scenes that must’ve been incredible in dye-transfer Technicolor. The Joshua Trees elsewhere are a clear sign of other Mojave Desert locales. (Some sources list Tucson, AZ, and Apple Valley, CA, as other locations.) The expansive, gorgeous outdoor scenes are contrasted by the dark, claustrophobic interiors of the last reel, as the painted warriors leap from the church’s high windows onto the determined settlers below.

To help manage costs, the Mescalero Apaches were often played by Los Angeles lifeguards. They were athletic enough for what was required — and cheaper than professional stuntmen. Their presence in the last third of the film is handled largely through sound design — the drums of the title, an effective way to heighten tension while staying within budget. It’s to the credit of everyone involved with Apache Drums that we’re never actually aware we’re watching a low-budget picture.

Stephen McNally is quite good as Leeds, a scoundrel we can’t help but like, and who comes to see the error of his ways. As Sally, who also can’t help but like Leeds, Coleen Gray does all she can with a pretty standard part. If she’d had more to do in the final attack in the church, it would’ve made a huge difference.

Coleen Gray: “A very good Western picture. Val Lewton was a fine producer… He was a very poetic, creative man, very sensitive person.”*

Back to the cast. Willard Parker’s mayor is a bit too stalwart — it’s easy to guess his fate. As the self-righteous reverend, Arthur Shields is, well, Arthur Shields — and that’s a great thing indeed. His character undergoes a real transformation over the course of the film. James Griffith is good, as always, as the wounded cavalry officer barricaded in the church with the townspeople. His knowledge of the Apache informs the audience as we go along. Unfortunately, Clarence Muse has too little screen time as Jehu, the saloon’s piano player.

With Apache Drums, Lewton had brought his strengths to another genre and another studio — crafting a tough, atmospheric Western that makes a strength, not a handicap, of its limited budget. After the disappointments of his post-RKO years, it looked like things were getting back on track. But following a couple heart attacks, Val Lewton died on March 14, 1951, at just 46. Apache Drums was released in May. Imagine if he’d continued to work his magic in Universal Westerns for the rest of the decade.

An aside: John Carpenter has always claimed his Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) was an homage to Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959). To me, Carpenter’s taut, suspenseful film seems much more a riff on Apache Drums.

I urge you to read Colin’s excellent post on this film at Riding The High Country.

* From Westerns Women: Interviews With 50 Leading Ladies Of Movie And Television Westerns From The 1930s To The 1960s by Boyd Magers.

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This Halloween, we can all curl up with our laptops and a plastic pumpkin full of our kids’ candy and make our way through the Val Lewton Blogathon.

I’ll be bringing up the rear with a post on the last film Lewton produced (he died at a way-too-young 46), Apache Drums (1951). His only Western, it benefits from all the mood and suspense we know and love from his wonderful horror films. In a lot of ways, it plays more like a horror film than a cowboy picture.

Directed by Hugo Fregonese and starring Stephen McNally, Coleen Gray and Arthur Shields — and with a good part for ace character actor James Griffth — it’s a solid, unique Western with plenty going for it. You’ll find further details on the Lewton blogathon, including a lineup of the films and bloggers, here.

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